New Jersey Fire Complaint Architecture

New Jersey Fire Complaint Architecture

Architects and developers are increasingly tasked with creating gorgeous homes that are also able to stand up to nature’s whims.  Working on any sort of building project in a coastal or high-risk area in New Jersey, homeowners are hyper-aware of the need to protect their investment. 

Last year’s hurricane season was costly and devastating, with three Category 4 hurricanes and several highly destructive wildfires in California.  Overall, there were 16 separate billion-dollar disasters last year with total costs exceeding $300 billion, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Whether working with older structures or planning new homes, it is essential that architects are stringent in complying with the New Jersey Fire Safety Code.  Codes serve as the mechanism for defining the standards that ensure the life, safety, and welfare of building occupants. However, any architect who has reviewed drawing sets for code compliance knows the laborious process requires a long list of items to check against a code language that is often intentionally ambiguous.  Adding to the complexity is the sheer number of code editions and amendments. Finally, even though many state and municipal building codes are based on the International Code Council’s (ICC’s) set of model codes, jurisdictions often tweak those codes for local conditions and requirements.

At the same time, building officials are increasingly under pressure to speed up their code compliance review process to keep up with increasingly tighter construction schedules.  However, many building departments are short staffed due to shrinking municipal budgets.

Enter Technology

But what if, instead of manually reviewing drawing sets, an architect or building official could press a button and generate a code compliance report automatically? That is the goal of several software startups that are leveraging the increasing amount of building data available through BIM software to automate and streamline the code review process.


San Francisco–based UpCodes was founded in early 2016 by brothers Garrett and Scott Reynolds.  After Scott recalled how he had often spent hours on code review, the brothers honed in on developing tools to streamline that process.  UpCodes first product, UpCodes Web, is an online database of building codes, which includes most codes that are based in the United States as well as the ICC’s model codes.  Users, who pay a monthly subscription to the site, can search, bookmark, and comment on the different codes.

Building Materials

Architects and builders working with homeowners are increasingly aware of the fact that energy efficiency, as well as fire safety drives demand for safer, greener construction.  In the last several years there has been an increase in the use of 2 x 6 Exterior Walls in home construction. Deeper assemblies also help meet fire codes and reduce sound transmission.

According to a recent study by Home Innovation Research Labs, more than 40 percent of all exterior walls in new single-family construction now use 2×6 assemblies—more than a 10 percent increase in a little over a decade

This assembly uses LP FlameBlock Fire-Rated OSB Sheathing to meet rigorous fire codes for zero-lot-line construction where walls are close to the property line.  A 2×6 stud creates 5½-inch wall depth to accommodate more insulation. The extra space offers numerous design advantages.  Using mineral wool insulation in a 2×6 wall assembly increases the Sound Transmission Class (STC) rating compared to standard fiberglass insulation.  This means that less outdoor noise penetrates the wall. Plus the additional mineral wool insulation in 2×6 assemblies can also achieve an R-value of 23 compared to the typical R-15 in 2×4 walls.

Architects who specify 2×6 exterior walls make many stakeholders happy.  The wider top plate makes it easier for construction pros working in the attic.  Homeowners obviously appreciate the significant increase in energy savings and reduction in sound transmission.

Twenty years ago, 2×6 framing was a novelty that had to be explained by gurus like Bob Vila.  Now it’s becoming much more commonplace, especially in cold-weather regions like New Jersey. These larger assemblies achieve three important goals: meeting today’s tougher fire codes, providing greater energy efficiency, and lowering sound transmission from outdoors into the home’s interior.

Some New Jersey architects and builders choose to build with fire-retardant treated wood (FRTW).

Fire retardant treating creates a chemical barrier that restricts the flame spread along the wood.  Allweather Wood uses the D-Blaze preservative manufactured by Viance, an industry leader in the development of advanced building material solutions that improve the performance and durability of wood products for sustainable building.  The preservative is not just on the wood surface, but infused deep into the wood to provide durable, safe, and long-lasting protection. The treating process utilizes pressure that forces the fire retardant into the wood fiber.  While wood that has been treated with a fire retardant cannot claim to be non-combustible, the retardant reacts within a burning environment to slow the speed of the burn and limit the spread of fire.

There are specific requirements set by the International Building Code for what is acceptable for FRTW products. The code details specific information that must appear on the product label, which is typically applied as a stamp on the wood.

Even when pressure treated, wood is a more sustainable construction material to choose when compared against non-renewable materials.  Recent life cycle assessments have found that pressure treated wood framing uses less energy, fossil fuels, and water than galvanized steel framing.  And, for projects pursuing Green certifications, it also helps that some of the most popular fire retardant treatments—namely D-Blaze—are GreenGuard Gold certified with no VOCs and no formaldehyde.  Coupled with certification from the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC C102121), and the commitment of lumber manufacturer’s to maintaining a healthy growing environment for their products, the benefits of FRTW are enough to merit consideration for your next green building project.

The lessons learned from California wildfires

When considering fire-compliant building, it behooves New Jersey architects to consider what homeowners have experienced in California, the state most devastated by fire in the last three years than any state in history.

Sean Jennings was vacationing in Florida in September 2015 when firefighter friends told him the Valley Fire was headed for his home in Lake County, California.  “They said just sit tight because it would be a total loss.”

A mile-and-a-half wide tongue of fire came up the hillside and engulfed his house. Trees were scorched.  His car’s tires melted into his driveway. But his home remained. “Nobody within a half mile of me had a house,” Jennings said. “Everyone’s burned down. But not mine.”

Jennings had only built his house a few years earlier.  “I wanted something that was fireproof, earthquake proof, flood proof,” says Jennings.  “Future proof, basically.”

Jennings’ solution was to find a building material made of polystyrene foam, steel and concrete.  The interlocking 3-D panels built by RSG-3D are placed over a welded wire truss system, then covered with a reinforced concrete outer layer.

According to RSG-3D, the buildings can withstand at least two hours of exposure to fire, an earthquake registering up to 9.0 on the Richter scale, and sustained 300-mile-per hour winds.

Jennings determined the house cost 20% more to build than a wood frame house. What he didn’t anticipate was that it would save him hundreds of thousands of dollars and keep his house from being completely destroyed.

The Valley Fire broke his windows, resulting in some soot damage.  A garage door was either left open or blew open, engulfing his workbench and tools and leaving screwdrivers looking like melted lollipops.  “It was an inferno in there, but the room above the garage where I had my collectables and my wife’s Christmas ornament collection were totally untouched.”

Though complying with code can be challenging, there are exciting new avenues for architects to explore.  Designing houses that not only look beautiful, but can stand up to mother nature and remain strong, safe and sustainable for those that call them home is a gratifying experience for any architect.

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